Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Wool Soakers: What You Need to Know

If you don't know anything about using wool for cloth diapering, this is for you.  I'll be answering some general questions, such as: How do wool soakers work?  How often does wool need to be washed?  What are the benefits of wool? Why use wool? and How do I wash and lanolize my wool?

There are many cloth diapering moms, both new and experienced, who do not know much about wool.  Yes, wool!  The kind that comes off sheep.  Did you know wool can be used as a diaper cover?  It's actually a great choice.  It's breathable, anti-bacterial, and comes in some pretty cute styles.

A wool cover, or 'soaker', works similarly to a PUL cover, in the way that it is placed over an absorbent diaper to keep the urine in.  The wool is the 'waterproof' barrier.  It keeps the pee-pee locked up tight to keep your baby's cute little pants dry.  A wool cover cannot be used on it's own, it is just a cover.  

The wool works by repelling liquid back into the diaper as well as absorbing it.  Wool can absorb up 30% of its weight in liquid before it starts to feel wet on the outside!  A soaker can be used multiple times between washings, as long as it hasn't been 'soiled' (pooped on) because it is naturally anti-bacterial.  The natural animal fibres and lanolin will turn urine into salt and water, making it clean and sanitary to go up to a few weeks without washing.  Exactly how long can you go between washings?  That depends.  If your soaker isn't working as well as it used to, it is time to wash.  Another way to tell is by sniffing the wet zone when the garment is dry.  If it smells like urine, it's time to wash.

Wool covers must be hand washed, but there's no need to go out and buy a washboard!  Washing a wool garment is easy.  Just fill your sink (or a bowl, whatever) with tepid water.  Add a 'wool wash' or a squirt of baby wash, turn your woolie inside out, and toss it in.
  If the water repels slightly, then gently rub the wool together and swish it around in the water.  I like to leave my soaker to sit in the water for around half an hour.  I use that time to sit on the couch and forget that I'm washing wool.  If your soaker was soiled, you might need to focus on the icky spots to make sure they come out.  Remember not to scrub too hard, and not to use hot water.  After your woolie is clean, drain the water.  Gently squeeze out as much water as you can.  I like to roll my cover up in a towel, then kneel or stand on it to soak out the water.  Lay your wool flat to dry.  This usually takes about a day for me, but can take longer.  Drying in a well ventilated area will speed up your drying time.
  If the water soaks into your wool immediately, it is also time to lanolize your wool.  What am I talking about?  Lanolin is a natural sheep oil found in wool.  If you are/were a breastfeeding mother, you probably rubbed it all over your nipples and personally thanked every sheep you met for the relief it brought you.  Yeah, that stuff.  To remain wonderful and soft and a good soaker/cover, your woolie will need to be lanolized every few washes.  It's easy to do.  First, wash your woolie as normal, with the exception of squeezing and drying.  There's no need for that. Then, get yourself some lanolin.  You can probably get some at your local health store, on the internet, or walk yourself down to Walmart and get some of the nipple-heaven-in-a-tube that you used while nursing.  It's a purple tube.  Get yourself some of that, and a tiny container.  I use an old baby food jar, but you can use any small container.  Fill that container up with hot water, a squirt of wool wash or baby wash, and a pea-sized drop of  lanolin.  Shake up your container until the lanolin has disolved, then dump it in clean tepid water and add the woolie.  Swish it around, let it soak, swish some more.  Then drain, squeeze, lay flat to dry as instructed before.

We've talked about how wool works and how to care for it, but why should you use wool?  What are the benefits, the 'pros' and 'cons'?

Let's start with the good. 
Wool is breathable.  It is great for babies prone to rashes, because it allows air to circulate around the bum but still keeps moisture in.
Wool is a natural, renewable resource!  It is not synthetic.  It doesn't damage the environment.  The sheep also appreciate being shaved in the summer.  Do it for the sheep!
Wool is a great night-time solution.  Pair it with a super absorbent fitted or wear it over a pocket, and you've got yourself a nearly bulletproof diaper.
Wool can double as clothing!  Woolies come in soakers, which are shaped somewhat like most other diapers.  You can also get longies (wool pants), shorties (wool shorts), and skirties (a wool cover with a wool skirt attatched).  I adore my longies and my daughter looks cute as can be in them.
Wool keeps your baby warm in the winter and cool in the summer.
Wool isn't scratchy like you might think.  I have some longies that are so soft I want to rub my face on them.

There are a few downsides you might want to consider.
Wool is prone to compression leaks.  All diapers are, but I wouldn't put my daughter in a pair of longies and then put her in the carseat for a few hours.
Wool must be handwashed.  Don't even think about putting it in your washing machine.  I don't care how tired you are, you handwash that wool.  If you don't, it'll probably come out of your machine doll-sized.  (Well, some wool might be machine washable.  I've never seen this myself, but I did hear a rumor.  I wouldn't machine wash them anyway.)
Wool can be expensive.  Using a stash completely made up of wool and absorbent diapers will still save you money.  You may only need 3-4 wool covers in total.  Unfortunately, wool is not one-sized and each individual piece can be upwards of 30$.  If you're looking to keep the cost as low as possible, you can make your own woolies out of thrift store wool sweaters.
Wool can be a little bulky or odd looking underneath clothes.  This can be bypassed by using wool as bottoms(longies! skirties!).  There may be some trim wool covers out there, but I haven't tried any myself and so I can't speak for any.

There you have it, folks.  A quick, somewhat short schooling on the basics of wool.  Still have questions?  No problem!  Ask them in the comments or send me an email.

Do you use wool?  If so, tell me how much you love it and what your favorite wool garment is.  If not, why don't you?  Hopefully this post has convinced you to give wool a shot!


  1. Great post! Wool has always made me nervous, but I'm always tempted to try it! This makes it seem totally doable!

    1. It's easy once you get used to it. I love it because I'm lazy and rarely have to wash ;)

  2. I'm doing a wool giveaway! Ends 4/20/13.

  3. Great information! I have never used wool before.

  4. I've been cloth diapering my daughter since birth and she's 13 months old... But I have to admit, for some reason wool makes me nervous! I know I need to try it, because more often than not I am proven wrong and wonder how I went so long without trying it out.

    1. It's really easy. You can't mess it up unless you toss it in the washer, or wash it with water that's too hot.

  5. Even 4 kids and 6 years, I am still nervous about wool. I just got a soaker and Im gonna give it a try. Thanks for the post!